Depression can be devastating for the person experiencing it day today. If you have a friend or loved one dealing with it, it can also significantly impact you. You may find yourself wondering how to help a friend with depression. There are actions you can take as far as how to help a friend with depression or even a partner or spouse.
What Is Depression?
One of the most important ideas behind “how to help a friend with depression” is learning as much as possible about the condition. When you know about it, you then realize more about the symptoms someone is experiencing, so you can come from a place of empathy and understanding. You can also recognize there are things not to take personally when you love someone with depression and that they can’t help their symptoms.
Dealing with depressive symptoms is like any other health condition. The disorder affects how you think, feel, and your daily functionality – it can also impact your sleep, work, relationships, and eating habits.
Signs and symptoms of depression can include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness
- Feelings of pessimism or hopelessness
- Feeling guilty, helpless, or worthless
- Loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable
- Low energy or fatigue
- Problems concentrating or making decisions
- Problems falling asleep or staying asleep
- Sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Thoughts of suicide or death
- Suicide attempts or increased risk of suicide
- Physical symptoms without an explanation, such as headaches or digestive issues
A person who has depression won’t have all of the above symptoms. Some have a few, and others have many, like other medical conditions and mental illnesses.
According to national institutes, depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States, likely caused by a combination of factors including psychological, environmental, biological, and genetic.
Whether it’s a friend or one of your family members, or you want to learn about depression and how to be a supportive partner, general tips include:
- Encourage your loved one to get treatment or, if they’re already receiving professional treatment, to follow what their health care provider advises them to do.
- If a person is experiencing symptoms and hasn’t yet gotten professional help, you could research providers in their area with contact information.
- Be an active listener: Many of us want to fix problems for people we care about, but that’s not something within our power. Instead, when someone feels like talking, validate their feelings, and just listen without judgment or without giving opinions or advice.
- When something good happens, offer positive reinforcement. Remind your friend how many great qualities they have, or celebrate their progress, even if it’s seemingly small.
- Be a low-stress source of comfort; don’t create situations that are going to raise stress.
- Look for local organizations or online support groups that your loved one might benefit from participation.
- Try to watch for signs of other problems, like signs of suicidal thoughts. Some situations may require immediate professional help, so be mindful of the risk of a suicide attempt.
- Be patient and don’t give up on someone who’s struggling or having a difficult time. It can take time for someone to come to you for help or to agree to get professional help.
If you live with someone who experienced depression, try to keep your home life one that’s positive and uplifting as much as you can. Focus on healthy meals and getting regular exercise together, if at all possible.
What Not to Do
Sometimes, when you’re learning how to help a friend with depression or how to be a supportive partner to someone with depression, the things you don’t do are as important as what you do.
First, you don’t have to treat their condition as taboo or off-limits to discuss – that can make someone more uncomfortable. If you have concerns, it’s okay to talk about them, but just try to avoid being judgmental or too critical.
Don’t believe you can fix the issue. You are not there to fix anyone’s problems, and it’s not within your capabilities, and that’s okay. A medical professional can help people with depression, but that’s up to your loved one ultimately as far as whether or not they get that help. If your friend comes to you about their depression, don’t try to make them feel better by minimizing it. That can be incredibly painful to someone with depression and detrimental to their mental health and your relationship.
Helping Someone Get Treatment
As we’ve touched on, one of the most helpful things you can do is encourage treatment, but this can be easier said than done. A person with a mental health disorder can live a fulfilling life, but usually only with professional treatment.
To encourage treatment, talk to your loved one about your concerns and how they might benefit from talking to a mental health professional. You might do some research about the different types of medication and talk therapy to discuss them with the person struggling.
For example, cognitive behavioral therapy paired with medications can often have drastic benefits in the symptoms of major depression.
Taking Care of Yourself
When you love someone with a mental illness, it can take a tremendous toll on your mental health and daily life. There’s no way for you to help someone if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Don’t let trying to help another person consume you to the point that you aren’t engaging in self-care.
Find a support network to share your feelings and concerns, and take a step back when you need to – Also, be sure you are setting boundaries and make sure that you know when it’s time for you to say no. Don’t blame yourself for what any other person is going through, and know that just by caring, you’re doing the best you can.
Recovery is possible, and if you’d like to learn more about medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment we encourage you to reach out to the clinical team at The Mental Health Center of San Diego by calling (858) 258-9883 today.